The American Association of University Professors is deeply troubled that the United Arab Emirates has denied New York University professor Andrew Ross entry to the emirate of Abu Dhabi. Ross has been conducting research on labor conditions in that country. The denial of entry has ominous implications for the state of academic freedom at NYU’s branch campus in Abu Dhabi.
In our 2009 statement “On Conditions of Employment at Overseas Campuses,” formulated jointly with the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the AAUP acknowledged that the “expansion of higher education opportunities is a welcome feature of today’s more internationally integrated world.” However, the statement warned that “as the U.S. and Canadian presence in higher education grows in countries marked by authoritarian rule, basic principles of academic freedom, collegial governance, and nondiscrimination are less likely to be observed. In a host environment where free speech is constrained, if not proscribed, faculty will censor themselves, and the cause of authentic liberal education, to the extent it can exist in such situations, will suffer.”
The statement added, “Colleges and universities as employers and contractors should uphold the full observance of internationally recognized standards governing the rights and working conditions of nonacademic employees who build and maintain classrooms and offices and meet other needs that keep the institutions functioning.” In his scholarship, his advocacy as a faculty member, and his role as an AAUP activist, Professor Ross has repeatedly voiced concerns about the status of such employees at NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus.
In an essay published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Ross reported:
The last time I visited Abu Dhabi, to do field research in labor camps, I and my fellow investigators were trailed everywhere by a car with tinted windows. In recent months, I learned that a private investigator had been calling academic acquaintances to gather information about me. And my own advocacy work, with the Gulf Labor coalition, had provoked strong reactions from the state agencies responsible for building Abu Dhabi’s “cultural zone” on Saadiyat Island.
The administration of NYU has maintained that its Abu Dhabi campus will observe the AAUP’s principles on academic freedom and that all faculty and students will be free to enter and leave the country without undue restriction. Professor Ross’s experience raises considerable doubt about these claims. Like Ross, we fear that this action “could well generate a speech chill at NYU Abu Dhabi. Faculty and students may think twice about expressing their thoughts and opinions on a whole range of topics, but especially on the conditions of the migrant” work force.
The AAUP urges the administration of NYU to make every effort to get the ban on Professor Ross lifted and, should such efforts fail, to work with its faculty to reconsider its role in the emirate.